These are not hard to figure out – it was hard to pick 20 and I ended up having to leave out films I still love. These are not “runners-up,” nor are these meant to be thought of any less than the rest of my list. I simply did not have room to talk about all the films I wanted to and wish to discuss them briefly here
M (dir Fritz Lang, 1931)-I actually owe a lot more to this film than I probably know. You have seen my thoughts on this film grow enormously – from begrudging admiration to outright love as I examined it more. Peter Lorre never gave a better performance, and the film stands as a perfect documentation over German uncertainty during the Weimar Republic – a feeling that helped give rise to the Nazi Party.
North By Northwest (dir Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)-Yes, due to spacing, I had to leave Alfred Hitchcock off my main list. I will be doing penance for that, I am sure. This is probably Hitchcock at his best. Hitchcock was, first and foremost, a creator of spectacle. This was his best one – using Mt Rushmore as the finale to a spy ring. Yet the film also contains all of Hitchcock’s trademarks, from subdued sexuality (how else to you explain the closing shot) to the darkness beneath the mundane existence of society.
Pulp Fiction (dir Quentin Tarantino, 1994) – Mentioned more out of obligation these days – people honestly forget the impact this film originally had, now that so many have imitated it. The film reintroduced the all but forgotten techniques of the French New Wave to audience that had barely survived the studio driven 1980s. The adrenaline shot scene presented in the film is Tarantino stating what he wished to do to American cinema. Luckily, at least for a while, he succeeded.
Hard Boiled (dir John Woo, 1992) – Speaking of Tarantino, when he was discussing Woo with a producer, the producer stated something along the lines of “I guess he can direct action pictures.” “Sure,” came the reply “and Michelangelo can paint ceilings!” Woo’s films are the apex of late Hong Kong cinema back when that region had a voice. His films are as much of a commentary on Western perceptions of violence as they are meticulously planned stunt films. At the very least, Woo had something to say about duality and the law rather than “letting his gun do the talking” as so many Western directors are apt to do.
Tron (dir Steve Lisberger, 1982)- I gave Disney some flack in my article, stating they had ultimately destroyed animation in the U.S. Tron was their last chance to save it. Tron was ahead of its time – imaging a world where computers were dominant in culture and where programmers would be the new heroes. It beat William Gibson by at least three years in defining the cyberpunk genre and, what’s more, used animation to its only logical purpose. Tron creates a world that could not possibly exist without the use of animation.
Pan’s Labyrinth (dir Guillmero del Toro, 2006)-This would be the perfect children’s film, if not for the fact that it deals with ideas no child could wrap their heads around. As it stands, it represents Spanish innocence being destroyed by Franco; something Spain has never recovered from. Of course the visuals are also incredible, the script tight, and the performances are without peer(Captain Vidal may very well be the best villain since Frank Booth), but the ultimate appeal would be seeing the innocence of Europe one last time.
Breathless (dir Jean Luc Godard, 1960)-As picked clean as Pulp Fiction is, but I doubt anyone would notice. The film demonstrates why films are also known as “moving pictures.” The film also represents a great artistic coup. It borrows heavily from American film noir but uses it in such a way that I doubt many American critics were able to recognize it. The film demonstrated how the French had surpassed the rest of the world, and could no longer be compared to in terms of other films (ie, the fact Children of Paradise is often referred to as France’s Gone With the Wind) but how it deserved the top spot, at least for a while.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (dir Nicholas Roeg, 1976) – A year after this was released, Star Wars came along and pretty much ushered an end to science fiction ever being considered an intelligent genre. As such, The Man Who Fell to Earth represents a sort of last gasp. It also shows the alienation that was being associated with the end of the hippie era and how the striving for any sort of social progress utterly failed. Why else cast David Bowie as the lead? Plus, the films hallucinogenic visuals really do help audiences feel how alien and bizarre our world really is.
Almost Famous (dir Cameron Crowe, 2000)-Another example of a director who managed to use the studio system to create an autobiography, Cameron Crowe’s reflection on his youth may be the only example of how “following your dreams” can actually be beneficial. Not everything that happens to young William Miller is a good thing. But then, to destroy one’s innocence, one has to experience everything. The soundtrack is fantastic, as is the attention to detail in capturing the time period. But saying that the film looks like a period photograph is not a good thing. What is good is how much Cameron Crowe was willing to reveal about himself, even if (judging by the theatrical gross) no one really cared to notice.
Also, find the director’s cut if you can. It is a much better film.